The History of Gender Difference in Baseball
1850 - 1920
Evolved from the British game of rounders, the first baseball game using the basis for today’s rules is believed to have been played on June 19, 1846 by Andrew Cartwright’s New York Knickerbockers. By 1856, a baseball craze had so taken over the New York City metropolitan area that local journalists were referring to the game as the “national pastime.” A year later, sixteen area clubs formed the sport’s first governing body: The National Association of Base Ball Players. The association officially banned black players within its first four years. While women never played on professional clubs during this time, there is evidence that suggests amateur participation.
While the National League was founded in 1876, the American Association was also formed, thus constituting the foundation of the Major League Baseball system of today. During this time, Moses Fleetwood Walker, a catcher from Ohio, suited up for the Toledo Blue Stockings, becoming the first openly black player in Major League Baseball. After he retired from injury, a gentleman’s agreement was reached to create a baseball color line that effectively barred black players from white-owned professional leagues, major and minor. It was at this time that the first professional Negro leagues formed, as well as several independent black teams that succeeded as barnstormers.
By 1893, not only were the major rules finalized, but the first organized all-female baseball teams began to play ball. The Boston Bloomer Girls Baseball Club was perhaps the most successful, culminating in their country wide tour in 1897. One of their standout players was Maud Nelson, and Italian-American pitcher with a killer curve ball. She would later go on to become the owner-manager of the Western Bloomer Girls. Other standout players of the ear include Julie St. Clair and Maggie Burke, both of whom played for the Chicago Stars. The majority of these clubs were white-only.
1920 - 1990
Although seen by most as a novelty, and in some cases a crime, by the 1920s there were several female players being scouted at both the amateur and semi-pro levels. A first baseman for the Providence Independents, Lizzie Murphy, was not only considered by sport writers to be every bit as talented as a male player, but also was making $300/week, more than most of her male teammates. During her career, she played in a charity exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox. This decade saw Margaret Donahue become the first female front office executive in Major League Baseball. During her time with the Chicago Cubs, she introduced marketing concepts such as the season ticket, and reduced prices for children under 12. Still barred from much of organized baseball due to race, black women also made strides during this decade. In 1922, Olivia Taylor became the first woman to own a Negro League team – the Indianapolis ABCs. Once she took over the team, not only did players bristle at the idea of playing for a woman, but her fellow NNL owners demanded she sell the club, claiming that she would ruin its legacy. She held on to the club until its league folded in 1925.
The 1930s saw Effa Manley, the first woman inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, take control of the Newark Eagles. She would hold control of the team until 1948. Although her legacy is complicated – Manley was born into an interracial family, but her mother’s husband, an African-American man, wasn’t her biological father, and despite learning the truth in her teenage years, Manley continued living as a Black woman – she lead the Eagles to a Negro League World Series championship, and held on to players such as Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Willie Wells, and Leon Day.
Perhaps the most well-known chapter of women in baseball occurred from 1943 to 1954, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The white only league was formed in the wake of World War II by Phillip K. Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, in the hope of keeping baseball financially afloat during the war. Its most successful team, the Rockford Peaches, won for championships, and were later commemorated in the 1992 move, A League of Their Own. The 1940s also saw former Boston Bloomer Edith Houghton be hired as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies.
While white women grew the game at this time by playing against each other, black women did the same by joining the formerly all-male Negro Leagues. In the years following the integration of Major League Baseball, owners like Syd Pollok of the Indianapolis Clowns turned to novelties and promotions to get fans to their ballparks. Pollock signed Toni Stone in 1953, and in her inaugural season she hit .302. That same year he signed Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, a two-way player who would go on to compile a 33-8 record as a pitcher, and a .273 average as a hitter over two and a half seasons. In 1954, Connie Morgan became the third woman to play in the Negro Leagues, replacing an injured Toni Stone at second base. Although each was signed as a novelty for fans, each was a competitive and valuable player for their ballclubs.
The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw the number of women working in Major League Baseball increase very slowly, but steadily. By the late 1980s, future GM Kim Ng had begun her career as an intern for the Chicago White Sox, NBC’s Gayle Gardner had become the first woman to regularly host Major League Baseball games for a major television network, and Julie Croteau became the first woman to play NCAA baseball.
1990 - Present
In the last 30 years, women have made tremendous strides in baseball. Today, Kim Ng serves as the General Manager of the Miami Marlins. When she was appointed in the fall of 2020, not only did she become the first female head of a Major League Baseball team, but the first female to head a team in one of the four major American sports leagues. Jean Afterman has served as the Senior Vice President, Assistant General Manager of the New York Yankees since 2001. Raquel Ferreira has served as the Executive Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Boston Red Sox since 2014. On the field, Alyssa Nakken became the first full-time female Major League coach in 2020 with the San Francisco Giants, Bianca Smith became the first black woman to serve as a coach for a major league affiliated team in 2021 with the Boston Red Sox, and Rachel Balkovec became the first woman to manage a major league affiliated team in 2022 with the New York Yankees minor league club, the Tampa Tarpons.
Although the history of non-binary people in baseball is not well known, that does not mean that non-binary people have no greatly impacted the game. The AGEB hopes to help foster an environment in which non-binary people are comfortable living and working openly within Major League Baseball.
Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues - Andrea Williams
Only the Ball was White: A History of Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams - Robert Peterson
Girls of Summer: The Real Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League - Lois Brown